Split Screens

Every once in a LONG while, a writer might want two locations and/or characters to appear on screen AT THE SAME TIME, such as with a telephone conversation.

Such trickery is accomplished with a Split Screen.

A word of caution: Split Screens are confusing to the reader and the audience. Few writers can pull them off well. If you can avoid using a Split Screen, then do so.

Here is a telephone conversation formatted with a Split Screen:


In the above example, I used a Split Screen call out as I introduced Carlos' location. Basically, like this, Carlos will slide onto the screen and inhabit it with Victor when Victor answers the phone.

I also underlined the words SPLIT SCREEN. Writers really need to make sure Split Screens stand out on the page.

Writers also need to show where to END the Split Screen, as I did above. The director needs to know precisely when to return the screen to a single location and to which location to return it.

In this example, both characters are still on screen as Victor slams down the receiver and throws his fit, and the Split Screen ends there, leaving Carlos alone with his thoughts.

I could have ended it more abruptly the moment Victor slammed down his phone. I could have ended it later, showing Victor clearing his desk as Carlos rubs his forehead.


When trying to decide if a Split Screen effect is right for your scene, whether for a telephone conversation or anything else, you might consider the genre of your film.  Split screens are used effectively in Comedies, especially Romantic Comedies (think about the famous Split Screen telephone scenes in “When Harry Met Sally”).  Sometimes they work well in fast-paced Action films (Jason Statham films) or comedic Heist films (“Ocean’s Eleven”).  But there are some film types, often Dramas, in which they just won’t work well with the tone of the film.